IT’S just not cold enough for Monmouthshire Arctic adventurer Paul Fosh. The extreme athlete and Gwent property expert is worried that at just -10c it is far too warm where he is heading next month-the Canadian Arctic.
“You see the warmer it is the trickier the terrain. It’s best when it’s -20 -40c as the ground is frozen hard. Any warmer and there can be slush and icy pools of water which makes it a lot more difficult.”
The super fit 56-year old, who lives in Monmouth, is completing his intense training ahead of competing in the 430-mile Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra which is staged amid some of the most terrifying and unforgiving icy wastelands in the world.
The event, which has attracted a hardy 24 entrants from right across the globe, is universally recognised as the hardest most gruelling Ultra race on the planet.
Paul has been dragging tyres through the Monmouthshire countryside, alongside the River Wye and up and down the Brecon Beacons in stints of up to 14 hours over recent months in an effort to replicate the unrelenting physical and mental conditions he will face the Canadian Arctic
Thwarted in 2019 when he was forced to pull out of the 430-mile Montane Yukon Ultra due to injury Paul also had to withdraw from a replacement Lapland Ultra last year, after the Canadian Yukon event he’d entered was cancelled, when he was struck down, mid event, by covid.
Paul said: “My head wasn’t in the right place in 2019 and I was pulled from the event by marshals last year when tests showed I had somehow caught covid. It was pretty tough to take. So, yes, I definitely have plenty of unfinished business out there in the Canadian wilderness.”
Paul, owner and founder of Newport Based Paul Fosh Auctions and Lettings, believes he is in the best shape possible this time.
But if he achieves his aim this year it won’t be the first time the ultra athlete, who will trudge the 430 miles - a distance of Newport to Paris - pulling all his food and possessions in a pulk, a sled, over 10-11 days and nights, has completed an Arctic ultra.
Paul competed in 2015 in the then Likeys Ultra in Canada when he was one of just eight to finish, coming fourth out of the 24 that entered.
He flies out to Canada on Tuesday, January 31 to acclimatise, get his papers and kit checked before strapping on his sled and kit and heading into the frozen Yukon wastes on Saturday, February 4.
“Temperatures fluctuate between -20 and -40 but they are at a slightly worrying -10 at the moment which, it might sound bizarre, but is slightly too warm because it creates situations where as the rivers, which have frozen, can crack and you get water coming through, over flows, which you don’t want. The warmer it is, the less safe it is and the snow is softer and becomes slushy which makes it more difficult to haul the pulk. Ideally you want temperatures of -20 or even colder still.
“I’ve been hauling tyres in lanes and tracks around Monmouth and Brecon Beacons and through forest tracks and along river banks for 14 hours a day on the longer training sessions as out there I will be racing for as much as 16 hours a day. If everything goes to plan I hope to be able to complete the 430 miles in 10 or eleven days. I have a maximum of 13 days in which to complete the course.
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“I do the event to challenge myself. I had to pull out of the Lapland Ultra last year due to Covid and this one I am doing now I pulled out of previously as I didn’t feel mentally prepared. This time I am fit and mentally ready for the rigours ahead and can’t wait to get started.
“Barring getting any injuries, or accidents or getting covid, I feel as confident as I ever could be this time. I’m very much looking forward to the event but absolutely there is a high level of trepidation which I hope is a very healthy emotion as last time I went into it slightly complacently. This time I feel different and with my planning and making sure everything is just right I feel in a better place and believe I have given myself every chance of completing the challenge.”
Putting his latest challenge into perspective Paul said: “These extreme Arctic ultra events tend to have a completion rate by athletes of around just 20% compared to say another race people may have heard of, the Marathon des Sables, which has a completion rate of around 80%.
“Conditions are so brutal in the Yukon that in 2018 just one of the 23 competitors, who began the full distance race, made it to the finish line.
“Frostbite is a constant peril hanging over every racer. One year an experienced ultra-runner from Italy lost part of both legs and an arm to the condition.
“People can underestimate the mental challenge of an Arctic Ultra event. Walking in the daylight is much easier psychologically because you’ve got such fantastic scenery to look at. But when you’re walking at night, you could be anywhere. You’ve just got your head torch beam to follow.
“Competitors often complain of hallucinations amid the relentless wilderness. I’ve ‘seen’ all manner of hallucinations and heard strange sounds. Between the checkpoints competitors are completely on their own.
“I love the challenge, both physical and mental but know that probably less than a quarter of those entering the race will complete it.
“Over time, you become thrilled to be part of the small percentage that have entered and completed the race.
“I invest a lot of time, effort and money to get myself out there and I want to do myself proud. I don’t ever want to fail at anything I do.”
“There are those of us that almost enjoy the pain, but if it was too easy there would be no pleasure at the end.”
“Someone once told me to train hard and play easy. Admittedly, that was in the context of rugby, but I think it can apply to this too.”
Paul, a man who has spent his life in property and who has raised thousands of pounds for the Wales homelessness charity Llamau over the years, is supporting the charity again this time.
Paul said: “Llamau is an incredible charity. If you have five minutes, please take a look at their work, it is truly life-changing.
“I’m looking to raise at least £6,000 for Llamau from this event. If everyone who sees this story donates just £2 I will smash my goal. Please go to my Just giving page Paul Fosh 1 and donate at least £2, that’s less than a takeaway coffee. Just search Justgiving then Paul Fosh 1 and you’ll find me.” https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/paul-fosh1
The Montane Yukon Ultra follows the Yukon Quest Trail, the trail of the world’s toughest sled dog race. The 430-mile event start at 10.30 am on Saturday February 4 at Shipyard’s Park in Whitehorse next to the Yukon River in Canada and finishes in Dawson City
The ultra eventer must carry their own food, water, sleeping gear and emergency supplies on a sled - a ‘pulk’ - the entire distance of the epic race and be prepared to encounter wild animals as they jog, walk or crawl night and day over some of the world’s wildest and coldest terrain.
Competitors have 13 days to complete the challenge. The route crosses frozen rivers, lakes, and forests, while markers are regularly covered with fresh snow. The kit on the sled contains a sleeping system, consisting of a sleeping bag, light tent, stove, freeze-dried meals, first aid kit, emergency equipment and lots of layers of clothing.